Sunday, June 24, 2007

Homebird, sing

It is Friday afternoon, just past rush hour, and I am loitering by the bus stop with an elderly woman who's taken refuge beside me to avoid the herds of disaffected youth roving between transit centers. She is talking to me about her husband, who passed four years ago: how she cared for him every day until he died, how she's doing the same for a friend now. She is waiting for that friend's daughter to arrive from Bend so they can go back to her friend's apartment and pack a lifetime into cardboard boxes.

I am waiting for him, and I'm a tumbling mess of emotions. Excited to see him, anxious we won't feel the same, frustrated it's had to come to three weeks of sanctuary between six-month storms. Afraid that things changed, that somehow what we had slipped through our fingers before we tightened our grip. Over these months, I've felt my heart stiffen to ward off the pain. It's easier to pretend he isn't there at all than to acknowledge how far apart we are.

The bus arrives, and I break off the conversation I've only half-followed. Shadowy figures rise behind the tinted windows, all remarkably similar except for the fourth one. Suddenly, I'm sure I'll cry in the street.

And then, he is off the bus and in my arms, and I don't know if the elderly woman found her friend's sister, or whether the teenage hordes scoffed at our awkward embrace, encompassing backpack and purse and six months of separation. We pause and hold each other at arm's length, like we can't quite believe this is happening. And though soon there will be difficult conversations and (too brief) awkward resumptions of life together, for now, we just stand and stare, as the dam I've been building swells and bursts.

I find myself still doing that now, watching him when he sleeps or when he's at the computer. Like everything in life is new again.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Meet me at the crossroads

There are, as you might expect, good and bad things about what I'm doing.

The good: my co-workers are nice, my apartment and neighborhood in the Southeast are pedestrian-friendly and beautiful.

The tough: my job isn't quite what was presented to me, my commute is long-ish and requires a car most days, the absence of any and all family and friends is getting to me.

See, here's what you need to understand about me. There's no reason you should know this, since it's something I've only really figured out this past year or so. Relationships are the central part of my life. When I'm around people I love, I thrive. Life may have been pretty dismal these last six months, but the presence of a few key friends and my parents did wonders for my mental state on most days. Which, of course, coincided with many of the days I didn't blog. I need to fix that. Anyway, now? The one thing I didn't factor into this move -- because how could I know? -- was how empty it would feel without anyone here. Sure, you're right: I can still talk to them on the phone...but while that works for some people, I need to see you, to touch you, to be able to pop over to a meeting spot on a moment's notice so we can vent about our days or laugh over a pint.

So right now? Right now, I'm a little scared. A co-worker confided in me today that this job -- environmental consulting around a major transportation project -- isn't like she thought it would be. You don't get to do the environmental work. You don't have time. Your hours are sucked away by menial tasks and public meetings, and because we are at a satellite office, there's really no one around to talk to about the problem, as our own supervisor is so swamped that I've seen her all of three times this week (for five minutes, maybe). I think I can spin this work in a positive direction after a year or two, pitching it on my resume as a skill-builder in a related field, but transportation is terribly boring work for most of us (and, as I'm learning, I fall under the "most" category there). The thought of being trapped in it makes me a little queasy. I have to work to find the positives here, and I'm sure there are many. It's just a tad disappointing, especially when I find out this morning that they are hiring new people for my position in Seattle. And everyone here seems so amazed I relocated for this. The timing, it's a bitch.

And the commute? By the time I get home, I'm beyond exhausted. I can cook, unpack a box or two, and then it's 9:00 and I have to get ready for bed. No real time to explore my cool neighborhood. No time to write. Definitely no time to meet new people, which really sucks. I know it won't always be like this, but I'm starting to wonder if I need to take advantage of my month-to-month lease and move closer into where my office is located. I'm so tired right now that I want to curl up in bed and cry, but that won't help. Still, it's tempting.

The absence of friends? It's confirmed things I was starting to realize, like how I never want to leave my town again. I went back yesterday for a training at the main office, and the very sight of it made my heart hurt. Spent an hour after the training with a friend at Seward Park, and everything clicked. I know this sounds stupid. It's three hours away, right? Even working as many weekends as I do, I should still be able to get home once in awhile. Why can't that be enough? But I know a few people who feel the same, and all I can say is that right now, it's the absence of people I love which comes the closest to making this all unbearable. I can't articulate it, but trust this much: it is everything to me.

So, herein I also realize something crucial about the major relationship in my life, even if it is sort of on hiatus most of the year because of the 8000 miles between us. I don't want us to live somewhere else after he finishes his degree. I'm tired of feeling like our life has to wait. After 10 moves in four years, I'm sick of being nomadic. I want us home. Starting a life together. Buying that first, scary house together. Spending our evenings lingering on friends' front lawns, talking and laughing. Doing all the things that we can do now: let the moving boxes gather dust, find a place we can call our own, have two incomes in one household again. Back to school? It will happen for me, but I've already decided to do it close to home, and I'm content to wait awhile. That dream job? You know, if I can fulfill the personal side of life, I think I'd even be okay with transportation. Well, maybe not quite, but I don't think so much would hinge on finding the "perfect" job. Right now, that's all I have. I don't want to feel that way for long. Am I doing this without him? Yes. Does that mean I want to? God, no. We could each spend our lives working to reach the tops of our fields, and that would be all we had. Instead, I want to reach somewhere good enough career-wise, and end up with so much more in the process.

I'm done being transient. I want to put down what remains of my roots and stay there until there are too many rings on my trunk to count. With all this looming, my other half comes home to visit tomorrow for two brief weeks. Seventeen days to balance the fun with the seriousness. Things I don't feel right posting yet. We have so much to discuss. And it terrifies me.

Monday, June 11, 2007

I'll sing it one last time for you, then we really have to go

Recently, I operated under the delusion that I could be one of those people who travels light. The kind who can move entire lives in an oversized van. The ones who don't accumulate much and don't feel like they're missing anything.

This evening, I'm collapsed on the couch wondering how I managed to fill a 12' moving truck with our stuff. Granted, I'm essentially moving an apartment that used to have two occupants, but still. Books and clothing, furniture and's enough to embarrass me, and I'm still leaving all of the childhood memories (the schoolwork and yearbooks and well-worn stuffed animals) in my parents' garage.

I am exhausted and bone-weary. I do not want to leave my city, or my friends, or this life I've finally been cobbling back together. A thousand stupid worries stampede over my bed at night, keeping me awake: What if the neighbors are noisy, and I have to move? What if the commute is too long, and I have to move? What if this job doesn't work out, and I have to move BACK? I'm learning lately that I'm not a person who can turn off concerns like you'd extinguish a candle. My worries smolder in the fireplace. The biggest one, as always, involves leaving my friends and family behind. I'm tremendously insecure about losing friends, thanks I think to childhood traumas and adolescent ostracization. Every move scares me: maybe this will be the one. It's stupid, I know, but there it is.

I know I'll be back soon. You can't feel this strongly about a place and stay away for long, but I still leave another piece of my heart behind every damned time I go. I think it's just all happening too fast for me to feel comfortable yet. Hopefully, in a few weeks, it will be fine. For now, I just have to keep moving -- heh heh, like I have a choice.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

How to find an apartment on short notice

Scene: Chilltown, Portland, coveted neighborhood of my dreams. Memorial Day weekend. Saturday afternoon. Jay and I traipse for miles, seeking "For Rent" signs, having arrived in Portland with nothing but a dyslexic, outdated road map and a faint clue about neighborhoods I might like.

"Ooh! That girl just came out of those cute brick one-stories. Look at her dog! Do you think she's a renter?" I notice I am speaking unusually fast, perhaps because I've had three cups of coffee since we arrived.

"I don't know." At this point, after a madcap drive to P-town and several hours navigating a confusing street grid with my poor directions ("Go north! No, hold on, I didn't mean north. East! Maybe? Wait, where did that river come from, and why is it on our right instead of our left?"), I'm pretty sure Jay wishes I'd just affix my name to the nearest dumpster, squat in it for a few years, and let him move on with his life.

"Excuse me!" I dart up the walk to the woman, whose dog is relieving itself on the curb. She looks frightened, probably because I am sweating in the 85 degree heat. Or maybe it is because I am brandishing a pen. "Do you live in there?"

She looks down at her dog, which unfortunately is more interested in smelling my shoes than ripping me to pieces. "Erm...well, yes," she admits.

"Is it an apartment, or a condo? Do you know if there are any coming up this month?" I sound like a high school reporter on my first assignment.

"Well, it's an apartment," she says. "I'm not sure if there are any for rent, but the manager runs a few other buildings --"

"Do you have his number?"

She blinks. I'm pretty sure Jay's hiding behind a tree by now.

"I, um, yes, actually." She gives me the number, and I thank her before jogging off towards another interesting-looking building. Later that night, I will respond to our waitress's "How are you folks doing?" by saying, "I need to find an apartment by tomorrow afternoon. Do you live in a cool building?" She, too, will give me her landlord's number, which I mistakenly assume is a property management answering service and call at 10:00 pm, only to wake up a very confused manager. He actually agrees to show the place the next morning, proving that Portland people are one heck of a lot nicer than we native Seattleites, who are more likely to tell you that we don't want you in our city, ruining the atmosphere, so please go away before we subject you to baleful, intellectually superior stares.

The next day, on our way out of town, I remember the woman with the dog and call the number on a whim. Another very confused manager answers, wondering how exactly a random stranger found his unlisted number. I explain and ask if he has any rooms for rent. He mistakenly responds by saying, "Well, I'm on Xth street and Chilltown, but only until I empty out the laundry coins..." As luck would have it, we've just passed the street. Half an hour later, I've rented my new apartment.

Half a day later, I learn it is two blocks away from an all-ages club. Suddenly, I am grateful for the month-to-month lease.

Eh. There's only so much you can accomplish in 24 hours. Also, I love the place and am planning to wear earplugs for the next two years if that's what it takes to stay. Besides, I'm pretty sure my finely honed Northwestern glare can burn bass-bumping buildings to the ground.